Cullowhee, N.C. - Western Carolina concluded its annual spring drills on Thursday afternoon, practicing for just over an hour in helmets and shoulder pads under gray skies on the turf at E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field. The session was the second this week, and the 15th of the spring.
WCU head coach Mark Speir, who concluded his fifth spring atop the Catamount program, was pleased with the progress he felt his squad made coming off its second-consecutive, seven-win season.
“I thought it was a very productive spring, returning to fundamentals. We continued to instill in our players to play hard and paying attention to the details,” said Speir.
With just one returning coach – defensive line coach Mark Rhea – WCU almost had an entirely new defensive staff this spring, shining a bright spotlight on the importance of the 2016 spring drills. Speir commented that he considered the spring a success on the defensive side of the football.
“I think we got a lot taught here this spring. I thought our guys paid attention to the details of new defensive coordinator, Coach (Dustin) Landry), and our defensive staff in learning the defense,” said Speir. “I thought we really improved in our tackling. Coach Landry has a great way that he’s brought in teaching tackling, and I think it showed up this spring.”
Speir continued, “We had some depth issues over there with injuries and all, but I think overall I was really pleased with how far the defense came in learning Coach Landry’s scheme.”
On the other side of the football, Speir said he was very excited about what the offense accomplished during the 15 opportunities this spring. He talked about the three quarterbacks – Wes Holcombe, Tyrie Adams, and Kalen Whitlow – and the battle they had during the spring. He added that he expects the competition for the season-opening starting job to continue through the off-season and into fall camp.
“(Wes) Holcombe was steady throughout the spring; he’s got the experience. Kalen (Whitlow) did a great job, may have been the best in the passing game coming out of the spring. And Tyrie Adams just gives you so much with his athleticism – started off a little slow throwing the ball, but as the spring went along, he kept getting better and really shined in the Spring Game,” said Speir.
He added, “All three of them showed that they belong, all three showed that they have the potential to start. All three of them bring something to the table. We’re just going to have to see as we go through preseason camp who this team rallies around, who is the most consistent.”
Amidst the QB competition, Speir felt the offense improved in every facet of the game during the spring.
“I thought our offensive line got a lot better; we got better at running the football,” said Speir. “With Detrez (Newsome) being out, Corey Holloway came a long way this spring at running back.”
Speir also highlighted several players who emerged during the spring drill including tight end Roderick Poag and offensive linemen Walker Lanning, Kaleb Spry, and Chase Stehling, that all stepped up. He also commented that the specialists – Destry Barnwell, Ian Berryman, Logan Howard, and Chandler Addertion – continued to be steady in the work they turned in during the 15 drills.
Speir concluded, “Again, it was a very productive spring; now, we’ve got to have a great summer. Coach (Evan) Barr – the best in the business – will have that ready to go for us in the weight room. We can’t wait to get back out here in the first of August with our focus on the 2016 season.”
Western Carolina opens its 11-game schedule on Saturday, Sept. 3 as it rekindles the in-state rivalry with East Carolina at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, N.C. The Catamounts’ home-opener is against another in-state foe, Gardner-Webb, on Sept. 10 in Cullowhee. Season tickets for that – and all five home dates in 2016 – are on-sale now through the WCU Athletics Ticket Office and online at CatamountSports.com. Returning season ticket holders must renew their season tickets by mid-June, 2016. Fans can call the ticket office toll free at (800) 34-GOWCU or (828) 227-2401.